What Zillow Misses

quality-of-life Feb 25, 2021

I was hoping something magical would happen in 2021. Life would return to “normal.” I understood that flipping the calendar to a new year was more symbolic than significant – the coronavirus doesn’t change its behavior from one year to the next – but, psychologically, I was ready for things to get better. Fast. 

 


That Latest Twist: Snowvid-21

Queue “snowvid-21.” I, like many residents in Texas, was ill-prepared for a half foot of snow and days of below-freezing temperatures. The infrastructure for the state was not anticipating such conditions, either, leading to days without electricity or drinkable water for millions of people.

Why is 2020 following us into 2021?!?

 

Austin and Texas in general was ill-prepared for Snowvid-21

 

On the surface, it was awful. We were hosting family from California for a long weekend that turned into a long week. Pipes froze (one burst), electricity was lost and water (when it was working) was undrinkable. Cell phones were unreliable, gas stations ran out of petrol and grocery store lines stretched out for miles. Flights were canceled for days. We even exhausted our supply of firewood. I now know what it feels like to camp out in your own house and live with teenagers skipping showers for days. Neither is recommended.

But something positive happened. People rallied. I learned that my brother-in-law is MacGyver in disguise, my son can grill on a charcoal bbq and our family is full of problem solvers with great attitudes.

Family was only part of the story. Neighbors helped each other. A next-door neighbor helped fix our broken pipe with spare PVC parts. Another neighbor with working electricity for a time set up my other brother-in-law with an internet-enabled room to do a national webinar.

The broader neighborhood came together as well. A warming station with bottled water and coffee was set up at the police station. Homes with electricity and working water served as way stations and bed & breakfasts for those less fortunate. People shared tips on how to keep pipes from freezing, which grocery stores had inventory and which gas stations were open. Older adults were checked on and meals were delivered where needed. One resident donated their generator to the city to help keep water flowing. A chef in the neighborhood collected coolers to deliver warm meals to another area of Austin hit harder by the storm. A neighborhood SWOT team helped clean a house flooded from broken pipes.

 

Coolers packed with chef-prepared warm meals destined for those in need in the greater community

 


Zillow Can’t Capture the Full Picture

Zillow provides comprehensive information about homes to purchase or rent. Pictures, 3D floor plans, financial data, interactive maps, detailed descriptions and on and on. It has everything. It’s not surprising that about 1 in 20 homebuyers are purchasing homes without physically seeing them.

But can it answer the question of what happens when you lose electricity and water for days? Nope.

A home is more than a house. A house is a physical structure. A home is so much more: it is a composite of a region, metropolitan area, neighborhood, streets and physical dwelling, such as a house. It is also a feeling and has psychological and social dimensions.

In this sense, a home can have enormous intangible benefits that tools like Zillow can miss altogether.

 

It took a snowstorm in Texas – creating some unusual sights – to reaffirm to some that they are in the right place

 


Implications for Finding the Right Place in an Age Requiring Resilience

Resilience is a required core competence as we age. Life throws more curve balls the longer we live. And we may be entering an era with more exogenous risks due to climate change, global pandemics and political unrest.

We are most resilient when we are webbed in community with others. The right place can make us more resilient, through design that brings people together. (This is a core tenet for New Urbanism, for example.) The culture of a community can naturally connect people and build what sociologists call social capital. The reality is that some places do this better than others.

You may be in the perfect place. Or, you may not be. Perhaps the pandemic has made your assessment more clear. Snowvid-21 was revealing for those in Texas.

One neighbor, Doris, is in the right place. She is in her 80s and lives alone. After losing electricity, she was greeted by neighbors who brought warm soup, buttered rolls, salad and hot water. While the food was nourishing, it may have been the thoughtfulness of the community that impacted her most. She shared, “I felt so loved.”

I dream of a time when all of us can feel the same way – and ideally without first needing to lose electricity and water.

 


 

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